The rapidly changing area around California Avenue is likely to get another heavy dollop of commercial development after two projects with sizable office space received endorsements from Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board this week.
Both projects -- a research-and-development building at 2747 Park Blvd. and a mixed-use development at 2515 El Camino Real (the present site of the Olive Garden restaurant) -- are three-story buildings that have been undergoing city scrutiny for well over a year.
The project at the Olive Garden site will involve demolishing the restaurant and constructing a three-story, 39,858-square-foot building with retail, 13 condominiums and 9,835 square feet of office space.
The Jay Paul development includes replacement of an existing 4,800-square-foot building with a 33,323-square-foot one. It will include 133 parking spaces, with 25 spaces underground and 108 surface parking spaces.
In addition to endorsing the projects on El Camino and Park two projects, the Architectural Review Board also voted to approve a three-story building downtown at 411 Lytton Ave. This project would include 13,522 square feet of office space along with retail space and two residential units.
All three projects were expected to have to compete for City Council approval under the city's newly adopted ordinance limiting office development, which caps total new office space in three primary commercial areas to 50,000 square feet per year. All were trying to meet the March 31 approval deadline set by the ordinance, with the understanding that the council would act as the final arbiter between developments should the proposed projects jointly total more than 50,000 square feet of office space.
That, however, will not be necessary, as the total square footage is coming in under the threshold set. Thus, the March 31 deadline is now moot and the "beauty contest" that the council was planning to conduct for competing projects will not be needed.
All three projects are now set to be approved by the city's planning department without any council review.
The sudden disappearance of a need to weigh the projects against each other is due to the board also voting Thursday not to move ahead with a proposed development at 901 High St., which would have tipped office development over the 50,000-square-foot threshold.
Instead, the board agreed that the High Street development needs to be redesigned and scheduled another hearing for May 19. Because the project won't be ready by the March 31 deadline, it will now have to wait until next year before it could be considered for approval.
The architectural panel has had fewer reservations about the two office projects around California Avenue, both of which are located in areas that have seen a surge of new projects in recent years. The Jay Paul project would be located near Park Plaza, a new development that includes 82 apartments along with research-and-development space. Meanwhile, the Olive Garden site project is across the street from Stanford University's new residential development, which includes 70 units of affordable housing.
Designed by Ken Hayes, the El Camino project has already undergone several hearings, most recently on March 3, when several members asked Hayes to tweak the design, add landscaping elements and make the development more pedestrian-friendly.
On Thursday, the board agreed that Hayes has responded well to the proposed changes and voted 3-1, with Alexander Lew dissenting and Peter Baltay absent, to endorse the project. Even Lew, who opposed the proposal, praised the project and said he generally likes it. But much like at the prior hearing, Lew criticized the building's blocklong facade as being too long for the area.
The Jay Paul development received an even warmer welcome, winning the board's unanimous approval and words of enthusiastic praise. The proposal includes sidewalk enhancements along Sheridan Avenue to make it easier for pedestrians to get to the California Avenue Caltrain station; areas adjacent to the public sidewalk would also be spruced up with new landscaping; and Park Boulevard would be adorned with new benches and bike racks.
In reviewing the project, board member Baltay called it "one of the best projects I've seen, as far as landscaping goes" and said he would be happy to approve it. Board member Wynne Furth also lauded the proposed landscaping, which is centered around a protected Valley Oak and includes an outdoor seating area.
The building itself will be located on the corner of Park and Page Mill Road, with much of the rest of the site occupied by a parking lot interspersed by rows of trees. Lew called Jay Paul's proposed building "very handsome."
Board Chair Robert Gooyer concurred.
"It's come a long way, and I'm really happy with the final review," Gooyer said.